The Jewel Designer and the Conservationist Talk Coral Reef

A Sit Down with Temple St. Clair Carr and Celine Cousteau

The Jewel Designer and the Conservationist Talk Coral Reef

You may have noticed an increase in the awareness of coral reef preservation as of late. Sure, it’s a prevalent subject—one that’s been pertinent here in Hawaii—for a long time. (Duh! We’re surrounded by this living organism.) Yet worldwide, it seems that both conservationists, environmentalists—and now fashionistas—have caught wind of the dire need to protect these colorful outcroppings just beneath the waves.
Recently, we at B on Hawaii had the unique opportunity to speak with two leading advocates of the protection of coral, who together aim to initiate the complete ban of it for use in jewelry and fashion. Temple St. Clair Carr is a leading jewelry designer in Manhattan, N.Y.; Celine Cousteau is, as the name signifies, an environmentalist and educator who travels the world supporting the causes launched by her father, in addition to ones she initiates. We sat down with both these giants of industry to talk about the state of coral—and how it came to... this.

The following is an excerpt from that lengthy conversation...

B on Hawaii:  Temple, you were one of the founders of the “Too Precious To Wear” campaign, along with SeaWeb—an organization with roots in Hawaii. Can you tell us what you’ve been doing recently on this front?

Temple St. Clair Carr:  I just returned from Las Vegas where I spoke in hopes of making a serious impact with the “Too Precious” campaign. The idea is for me to use my position as a designer to get other high-end designers to not use coral. At all. Ever again.

B on Hawaii:  You sound like someone who has no problem telling people what needs to happen.

St. Clair:  Well, there were three different designers out there showing coral, and I’m now speaking with each of them to make sure that they don’t use coral in the future. It’s a work in progress. But as many have seen [in a story in the May issue of Vanity Fair magazine, featuring “Too Precious” celebrity spokesperson Ted Danson], we’ve got  some heavy hitters on board and the momentum is shifting in our favor.

B on Hawaii:  Celine, how did you get involved with the campaign?

Celine Cousteau:  I was asked to be a spokesperson for the campaign so I could focus on speaking to universities, at conferences, and in the press. By lending the weight of my family name to it.

B on Hawaii:  Tell us, how did you get involved in these philanthropic efforts? Why coral?

St. Clair:  I think I was a frustrated marine biologist in another life. I grew up in Virginia, and was certified in Scuba at a very young age. My father had a deep love for the sea, so we traveled throughout the Caribbean when I was little. Before college I spent time on a study program with the Cousteau’s. But I always loved the arts...
Anyway, skipping to the present: My husband and I live near a soup kitchen in the East Village in N.Y., and we’ve always been involved with helping out. When I reached a level of success in the jewelry world, I thought, I am in a position to make a bigger impact with this coral issue. So I “signed on”.

B on Hawaii:  Interesting. So how did you make the jump from underwater life to jewelry design?

St. Clair:  As I mentioned, when it came time for college, I looked for marine biology and liberal arts schools, and just ended up going in the arts direction. Yet my inspiration in the jewel world comes from the sea. The forms, the reflective qualities, it’s from where I draw my color palate.

B on Hawaii:  Was there a moment when it all clicked—that you wanted to help campaign against the use of coral in jewelry?

St. Clair:  I saw the film “The Cove” last year. It reminded me of all the time I spent kayaking in the tidal creeks in South Carolina with dolphin when I was young. In the film, it said “You are either an activist or a non-activist”: I decided it was time to be active.
I began donating proceeds from one of my lines to the cause referred to in the film. And then I ran in to Celine—Jacques daughter—and we began working together.

B on Hawaii:  Have you seen fairly good reactions from the fashion community in New York, and elsewhere?

St. Clair:  Since I got involved with the campaign last fall, I’ve noticed that the trend, if you can call it that, is TO do the right thing. To get educated about what you’re making, what you’re buying. There are exceptions, but most people have a good conscious these days. Yet still, a lot of people don’t understand that coral is an animal.

B on Hawaii:  Have you’ve seen some results since getting involved?

St. Clair:  I have. As you said, with the calibre of people involved—like Ted Danson, Tiffany and Co.’s CEO Mike Kowalski, and now the Gemological Institute—we’ve got some significant funding and energy behind the movement. It’s similar to trying to get the same attention as the blood diamonds and dirty gold. Now Rodney Rayner has announced he is using pink opal to mimic coral; Stephen Webster is using plastic to emulate coral. It’s definitely catching.

B on Hawaii:  Celine, not a lot of people know that you have a keen interest—in fact, one that parallels Temple’s “journey”—in to jewelry making. Do tell.

Cousteau:  When I was in high school I studied jewelry making and art—I loved the repetition. I too went to Italy [St. Clair made her career strides in Italy as well], where I was really drawn to design work, sculpting wax in order to make castings, as well as  the more traditional and delicate work of cutting of silver. I loved how organic and sculptural it was. I also studied photography there.
After that, I went to grad school and packed up that creative box—I’m just now opening it, again.

B on Hawaii:  What’s next?

St. Clair:  I’m helping SeaWeb update the language and look of their web site. Did you know that the U.S. is the biggest importer of coral? So we’re looking at how we can get some legislation behind halting this.

B on Hawaii:  Temple, Will your next collection be coral-inspired?

St. Clair: Good guess. I don’t want to spill the beans... But this Fall I will unveil my 2011 collection (preview) , and it’s very coral inspired. Because of this, and trying to spread the word, I will sell this line in over 100 locations, where as before I limited most of my pieces to Bergdorf’s, a few other high-end boutiques.

B on Hawaii:  Celine, can we expect to see some of your work “out there”?

Cousteau:  I am back to making jewelry. I'm just in the beginning part of discussing a small scale line in limited editions. Part of the earnings will go to non-profits, including my own, called CauseCentric Productions [which launches this Fall]. The idea is we are producing short documentaries as a communication tool for people who otherwise have no voice. You can see some of my pieces at CelineCousteau.com

B on Hawaii:  Many mahalos to you both, for your ongoing work as well as for chatting for this story. We will stay tuned with both your happenings regarding coral reef work. Aloha!

"A lot of people don’t understand that coral is an animal." — St. Clair